Len Dawson, who led the Kansas City Chiefs to victory in Super Bowl IV and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as both a player and host, has died at the age of 87, according to his family.
“With Ms. Linda by his side, it is with great sadness that we have to inform you of the passing of our beloved Len Dawson,” the family said in a statement to KMBC in Kansas City, where Lawson previously worked as a sports broadcaster. “He was a wonderful husband, father, brother and friend. Len has always been grateful and often overwhelmed by the countless connections he has made throughout his football and broadcasting careers.
“He loved Kansas City and no matter where his travels took him, he couldn’t wait to return home.”
Dawson, who entered a Kansas City hospice Aug. 12, worked for the Chiefs for nearly half a century: 14 years as a quarterback and 33 years as a broadcast analyst.
Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said he was “heartbroken” over Dawson’s death.
“Len Dawson is synonymous with the Kansas City Chiefs. Len embraced and embodied Kansas City and the people who call it home. They would be hard pressed to find a player who has had a greater impact on shaping the organization as we know it today than Len Dawson,” Hunt said in a statement. “I’ve admired Len all my life — at first on the field as a Hall of Famer and later as he transitioned into a successful broadcasting career.Throughout his distinguished career, Len made it a priority to give back to the community he loved.The franchise has lost a true legend.Our Thoughts and prayers to Linda and his family.”
Dawson spent the first five years of his 19-year pro career as a little-used backup for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, but his career took off after signing in 1962 to play for the AFL’s Dallas Texans (soon to be the Kansas City Chiefs) to play under Hank Stram, who had been an assistant at Purdue during Dawson’s distinguished college career.
The man Stram once described as “the most accurate passer in pro football” immediately showed that being a team’s No. 1 quarterback was worthy of the league title.
After moving to Kansas City the next year, the team’s success continued under Dawson, who was a seven-time All-Star/Pro Bowler and two first-team All-Pro.
In 1966, he led the Chiefs to another AFL title, which meant a trip to the so-called Super Bowl for the first time. Dawson played well (16 of 27, 211 yards) but the Chiefs were outplayed by Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers in a 35-10 loss.
The Chiefs returned three seasons later to face the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Although Joe Namath and the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts last year, the NFL was still considered superior and the Vikings entered the race as a double-digit favorite.
But Kansas City’s defense dominated and Dawson played a typically strong game (12 of 17, 142 yards) while being named MVP of the game, including a 46-yard touchdown pass to Otis Taylor in the third quarter that threw the 23. 7 victory.
Dawson was selected to the AFL’s all-time team in 1970 as second-team quarterback behind Namath.
He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1987 and as a broadcaster in 2012, following a television and radio career that began as a sports anchor on Kansas City TV in 1966 while still playing for the Chiefs often after practice going to KMBC, to broadcast that night’s sports report. Dawson later became a games analyst for NBC and a longtime host of the HBO series Inside the NFL.
After a series of health problems, including prostate cancer and quadruple heart bypass surgery, Dawson retired from broadcasting in 2017 after 33 years as the Chiefs’ radio color analyst.
Dawson remained a popular personality in Kansas City, even though he cut back on his public appearances a few years ago when his health began to fail him. But he always had time for fans, whether it was a photo or a signature, the latter often on an iconic black-and-white photo from halftime of the first Super Bowl: the exhausted quarterback, white uniform caked with mud, perched on a flapper chair with a cigarette in his mouth and a bottle of Fresca at his feet.
It captured a time and place perfectly. And it perfectly captured a man who embodied composure and confidence.
Dawson was born on June 20, 1935, the ninth of eleven children who filled James and Annie Dawson’s home in the factory town of Alliance, Ohio. He was a triple athlete at Alliance High School, setting records in soccer and basketball and turning his success on the gridiron into a scholarship offer from Purdue.
There, Dawson led the NCAA in passing efficiency as a sophomore while simultaneously playing defense and kicking, and he helped lead a memorable Notre Dame upset during the 1954 season. By the end of his collegiate career, Dawson had thrown for more than 3,000 yards despite playing in an era when ground-and-pound football was favored, and was selected by the Steelers in the first round of the 1957 draft.
He eventually found success with the Chiefs, and when he put his helmet on after the 1975 season, Dawson was retiring with 28,711 passing yards and 239 touchdowns. All but 204 yards and two touchdowns came with the Chiefs franchise.
Many of Dawson’s franchise records stood until current Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes started breaking them. The two quickly became friends, and Dawson was over the moon when Mahomes led the Chiefs to their second Super Bowl title in February 2020 with a win over the San Francisco 49ers.
RIP to the legend Len Dawson. The legacy and impact you left on Kansas City will live on forever. Prayers to his family 🙏🏽🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/AKMhxoUFYH
— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) August 24, 2022
Dawson was married to his high school sweetheart Jackie from 1954 until her death in 1978, and they had two children together. His second wife, Linda, stayed by his side when Dawson entered the hospice.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/34451383/hall-fame-qb-len-dawson-led-kansas-city-chiefs-super-bowl-iv-win-dies-age-87 Hall of Fame QB Len Dawson, who led Kansas City Chiefs to Super Bowl IV win, dies at age 87